With excellent independent media sites like Common Dreams, Truth Out, Grist, and others providing progressive news and perspective in written form, Films For Action has dedicated itself to filling in the progressive video niche.
"It's probably the most comprehensive collection of videos dedicated to social change online," says Tim Hjersted, co-founder and director for the project.
"With the overwhelming amount of junk-food-news and political gossip out there, people have really grown hungry for diverse, nutritious information. We've spent hundreds of hours looking for videos all over the internet so that we could catalog the best of these all in one place. After 6 years adding only the best gems, the website has become a treasure trove for people wanting to learn about what's really going on in the world."
Founded in 2006, Films For Action is a non-profit organization that works both on an international and local level to raise awareness of important social, environmental, and media-related issues not covered by the mainstream news. Locally, the group has organized dozens of documentary film screenings, bringing in crowds from 60 to 400 people. Many of the screenings have been used as a spring-board to launch action-oriented campaigns, including the opposition of a 2nd Wal-Mart coming to town, a street protest against the Iraq war led by Iraqi war veterans, and the introduction of a Peak Oil Resolution to the Lawrence, KS city commission, which was successfully passed in 2008.
All and all, through the group's website and its local city chapter efforts, the goal is to empower citizens with the information and perspectives essential to creating a more just, sustainable, and democratic society.
The site has 40 special coverage areas, including activism, big media, corporations, climate change, community, human and animal rights, media literacy, economics, education, politics, peak oil, sustainability, permaculture, solutions, big ideas, vision, war & peace, and more.
"With so much content to discover on the site, accessibility was key," says Mason Umholtz, the team's Chicago-based graphic designer. Umholtz spent months teleconferencing with Hjersted to reach the site's new visual look, which was launched in November 2010.
"A lot of news and activist sites can be intimidating, too cluttered or clogged up with ads. Oftentimes the content is great but the clunky interface or presentation turns people away. It was essential for us to create an esthetic and a user-experience that was attractive, familiar, and easy to use."
The site boasts an extensive feature list, drawing on many of the best innovations in web 2.0 design and social media connectivity. Member profiles can be created easily with Facebook Connect, and include messaging, notifications, and the ability to follow your friends' activity on the site. The site also allows anyone to contribute content, while a democratic voting system gives users the power to help decide what content is featured on the homepage. Several other features are dedicated to the site's city chapter areas, including local events, local news coverage, and a directory for local activist groups.
All of these features were brought to life by the team's computer programmer, Eli Dragen, who saw the potential for the project to take on a national and global focus.
"After four years focusing the project on efforts in Lawrence and seeing the success we'd had, we realized that the needs our own city had for better media was true everywhere,” Dragen said. “Most organizations are strapped for technical resources and can't afford to hire a Web designer to create a robust news site from scratch, and so far, none of the ‘website-out-of-a-box’ solutions, like Word Press or Blogger have focused on activist functionality. With the new site, we've made it easy for anyone to create a local chapter dedicated to providing indy-media for their city."
Matt Toplikar, a co-founder and editor for the project, believes the site may become an essential part of the existing independent media ecosystem.
“Addressing the inadequacies of the mainstream media is a huge job," said Toplikar, who works in the film and TV industry out of Albuquerque, N.M. "And so far dozens of excellent media groups have risen to the challenge. But there still wasn't a site dedicated to social-change film and video yet, which is what we hope to provide."
"We want it to be a place you can go to easily research all these important issues, and when you have a big discovery, you can easily share that with your friends. I've often found that it can be difficult to get a friend to read a book or even an article you recommend, but they'll be much more likely to watch a video. If you can find a video that gets your point across, and your friends watch it, and then they share it with their friends, it can be a really great way for an idea to go viral pretty fast."